WASHINGTON — To end a tumultuous season played under the dark cloud of an abuse scandal, the Portland Thorns beat the Kansas City Current to win the National Women’s Soccer League championship Saturday night, showing resilience as a franchise that has seen so much — and has weathered so much.

On a cold, clear night at Audi Field in front of more than 17,000 fans, the Thorns won 2-0 to clinch their third NWSL title in the league’s 10th season, dominating the game from the start. Forward Sophia Smith scored the Thorns’ first goal just four minutes in. Portland’s victory ended the championship hopes of the Current, an expansion team that was having a phenomenal year after finishing 2021 in last place.

Throughout the years, the Thorns — one of the league’s original teams — have been there to see the league grow in popularity and visibility. This year’s playoff games have had record attendance and Saturday’s championship game was the first one shown on prime-time television.

Yet the league still struggles with sponsorship. So much so that league officials used halftime to make a pitch on the broadcast for more support, tying the NWSL’s efforts to move past the abuse scandal to the pursuit of growing women’s sports.

“We know there is a lot of work left to have a safe and sustainable league,” NWSL Commissioner Jessica Berman said. “As we celebrate this historic moment, we will make our league a better place for players.”

Meghann Burke, the executive director of the NWSL players’ association, added: “We need sponsors and supporters to help make change happen.”


Amid the constant tumult within the league, the Thorns have in some ways been an example of what women’s soccer can be, with packed games and loyal fans, only to be at the center of the scandal that has rocked all levels of the women’s game. Their former coach’s sexual misconduct helped spark a leaguewide investigation into systematic abuse.

The investigation showed that girls and women get used to being yelled at, demeaned and sexualized at some point in their careers and often stay silent out of fear of getting benched or kicked off a team. That includes women playing at the top levels of the game, and also youth players.

Amid everything, the Thorns players brought Portland yet another NWSL championship, leaping on each other with screams and hugs when the game was done.

The team’s owner, Merritt Paulson, was not on hand to celebrate with them. Even if he were at the field, he would have not been invited to join them. In the wake of the sexual abuse report, he stepped down as CEO of the Thorns, and players have since asked him to sell the team.